Discovery Mindset and Black Swans

In 82 AD, the roman satirist Juvenal wrote of the existence of a “perfect wife” being like that of a non-existent bird – nigroque cycnoa – the black swan. Juvenal’s “Black Swan” was subsequently used across Europe as a synonym for something which could not exist.

And so it remained for the next 1600 years, until a Dutch explorer landed on the west coast of New Holland (now Perth, Western Australia). What he found must have shocked him – and changed what was until then an accepted truth: that all swans are white.

Discovery Black Swans

This is the limit of empiricism, statistics and of inductive reasoning. The truth about the existence of Black Swans was revealed to someone who went exploring, to discover what lay beyond the world known to them. In the same way, to discover and nurture black swans – to innovate – an organisation needs to get out of its comfort zone and explore new territory, unknown lands. In the case of the black swan, the truth was found at the ends of the earth. It is through exploration and a discovery mindset that your existing paradigm — that all swans are white — is challenged.

If you stick to places you’ve been before, what is safe, what is known, you’re only going to see the black swans if they happen to wander into your world. Even then, you have to have your eyes open to the possibility, otherwise you will probably ignore the early signals that suggest the world is different to what you currently believe. What are the chances that the truth will be revealed instead to someone else, someone who has gone on an adventure, with a discovery mindset has this new truth revealed to them?

Black Swan Farming requires a discovery mindset.